A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins: A review

 

Paula Hawkins had a best seller with her 2015 thriller The Girl on the Train. That book featured a damaged female protagonist. Perhaps on the theory that more is better, her new thriller features not one but three damaged female protagonists. And all of them are suspects in a murder.

The murder victim is one Daniel Sutherland whose body is found on his scuzzy houseboat moored on Regent's Canal in London. He had been stabbed and blood is everywhere including on a set of keys lying near the body. His neighbor from the next houseboat over finds the body when she notices his door open when she is out. For whatever reason, she picks up the keys and takes them with her.

That neighbor is named Miriam and as the discoverer of the body, she is immediately on the police's radar as a potential murderer. As we get to know Miriam, we find that she actually had a tenuous connection to the family of the murdered young man but it is not a happy connection. She is full of resentment and a desire for revenge over a wrong that was done to her, one that has blighted her life. Miriam had written a book and she asked a local author to read it. Well, he read it all right, but he appropriated the plot for his own work which became a best seller. (For some reason, the purloined plot seems to be a very popular plot device for writers this year.) That local author was the murder victim's uncle by marriage.

His aunt is Carla who is our second damaged protagonist. She, too, is full of resentment and anger. Years earlier she had suffered a heart-rending family tragedy, one from which she has never been able to recover and which continues to haunt her every day. She and her husband, the author, are no longer together, and a few weeks earlier her sister, Daniel's mother, accidentally(?) fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck. She died instantly. And now, Daniel. Eventually, we learn that Daniel and his mother were at the center of the tragedy that Carla endured. Has she had her revenge?

Finally, we have Laura Kilbride, a young woman with whom Daniel had a one-night stand. It was her keys that were found by his body, but, of course, the police don't know that because Miriam didn't turn them over. When Laura was a child, she suffered a terrible accident that has left her damaged both physically and psychologically. These problems reveal themselves through a serious limp and her aggressive outbursts, short-term memory lapses, poor impulse control, and inappropriate social behavior. She feels low (or no) self-worth. Truly, she is one messed-up young woman.

In spite of the tragedies that have damaged their lives, it is somehow difficult to work up much empathy for any of these women. They are all essentially self-serving and narcissistic. Hawkins' narrative leads the reader to suspect one of the flawed characters before taking us in a completely different direction that seems to lead to one of the others and I admit I did not really anticipate the plot twist that she had devised for us at the end. The message of that ending seems to be that trauma can unravel a person's life if it isn't confronted and allowed to heal. And the damage from it can finally manifest itself in strange ways. Such as murder.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. I skimmed your review as I was late requesting this one and although I have the audio, I want to wait to get the print for a combo read/listen. On occasion depending on the British narrator, sometimes I prefer print. 4/5 stars is still good in my book!

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    1. I wavered a bit over the rating to give this one. Three-and- a- half stars seemed most accurate, but, of course, I rounded up. I hope you enjoy it.

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  2. I have just missed seeing this on Netgalley and I am sorry to have missed it.

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    1. I think you would probably enjoy it if you have a chance to read it.

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  3. I was one of the few who didn't much like The Girl on the Train, and I've not paid any attention to Hawkins since that one. Your review has me wavering, but still thinking that I probably won't end up liking this one much better from the sounds of it. Something about her ending bothered me in the first one, along with her main character's temperament. I'm doing an awful job of explaining this...even to myself. :-)

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    1. She seems to specialize in unlikable main characters and sometimes that makes it hard to get into a story.

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  4. I still need to read The Girl on the Train. Sigh. I'm so far behind!

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    1. It'll still be there when and if you are ready for it.

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  5. Like Lark, I still need to read The Girl on the Train... A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins sounds intriguing, but not as interesting as The Girl on the Train.

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    1. I would agree that The Girl on the Train is the superior book.

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    2. I never got around to The Girl on the Train, and now I have another Hawkins to add to the list.

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    3. If you do decide to read them, I think you’ll enjoy them.

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  6. It might be too many trauma characters for me. But it seems you still liked the mystery of it.

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    1. All of the characters have suffered traumas of one kind or another and their lives have been derailed as a result.

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